3DS Download | Endgame Studios | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | $11.99
26th October 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
at every turn can detrimentally affect your spirit and belief in what you've worked hard to see to fruition.
These are feelings that Endgame Studios knows all too well. It is precisely for that reason that one can't help
but respect a team that has gone against all odds to make their concept -- which, as it happens, is a well-developed one -- a reality.
I got to talk to Grant Davies, Managing Director at Endgame Studios, and discuss Fractured Soul in its earlier forms, the low points surrounding its development, and the design philosophy that ultimately led to the game taking on the form that we now see today.
Wiiloveit: Let's begin with a bit of background. First I'd like to ask a personal question: What prompted you to get into game development? Did you expect to wind up where you are today and in the position you currently entertain?
Grant: Since I was a kid I've loved programming and games. In high school I wrote some editors for various games I liked playing with friends - Manchester United Premier League Champions, Sensible Soccer, Cricket 96, Cricket 97, as well as writing a cricket management simulation and a play-by-email soccer game which ran for a few years. I kind of naturally fell into game programming after high school. It wasn't really particularly important to found a games company. That just sort of happened because I wanted to explore a level of creativity that I wasn't able to when working for other companies.
Outside of Fractured Soul? We have worked on numerous titles over the years, for different developers and publishers. Normally it will be us lending a hand to an existing development team - extra programming and/or art support. We have worked on games like Spyro, Spider-Man and MX vs. ATV. Fractured Soul is the only game we've actually designed, though.
Seeing as Endgame Studios is of Australian origin, what do you make of the region's game market in its current state? What differences exist between this and the North American market, and what sort of changes are you now seeing come to the fore as the surrounding culture grows and diversifies?
In terms of consumers, I think the markets of Australia and North America are quite similar. One striking difference is that Australian consumers are willing to pay more for content - this is because we've been forced to pay extortionate prices for games for decades. It can cost almost double to purchase the same product in Australia than it does it the US, which is totally ridiculous.
In terms of development, Australia seems to be trying to reorient itself as a smartphone and casual game country. Endgame is one of very few developers still focusing on core content here, so it's a bit isolating. Personally, I hope this changes and that Australia can produce more core development studios, because I think smartphone game development is very precarious - so this direction is not great for our local industry.
As far as the actual concept behind Fractured Soul, in what ways does the finished product relate to your company's overall mission?
We like to innovate with game design, but at the same time you can't ignore the basics that have struck a chord with gamers since the beginning. We are naturally quite retro- and core-focused at heart, but we believe it's important to try to bring something new to a genre. This is why we were so intent on pursuing Fractured Soul for so long - it really fits our vision for an exciting, unique spin on a genre we love.
seen release is a testament to your team's drive and determination. Some may not know this, but Fractured Soul almost didn't happen, due to a number of logistical issues surrounding its distribution. What helped you stay on-task and not lose heart during those difficult times?
We probably lost heart any number of times over the years. It is impossible to stay upbeat all the time when deals fall through, you're overlooked or just the victim of plain bad luck. Every time we shook it off, because above all we really believed that Fractured Soul offers a truly unique gameplay experience that you cannot find in any other game. We knew that if we ourselves enjoyed playing the game as fans of platformers, it must be worth bringing to the world. I don't know whether you call that drive and determination, or just ignorant stubbornness!
Although the DS' presence helped spurn the base idea, do you feel luck played a role in Fractured Soul finally being put to market, or would you say it was more of your team's determination that led the project to completion?
I would say that luck played a part in the game not coming to market years ago, and probably several times. When I look back at some of the factors that led to deals falling through - for example, currency exchange rates changing dramatically as the paperwork was being written up - these are things that are totally beyond our control and virtually impossible to predict. I felt we had so much bad luck in getting Fractured Soul to market, that it almost felt like a cursed project at times.
It must be pretty validating to see that the game has met with positive reception, considering what you had to deal with just to get to this point. Would you say this has set a good precedent for future endeavours?
I hope so. It is good to know that other gamers and critics enjoyed the game too, and that it's not just us getting lost in our own world. I would love to think that we'd receive a better audience with publishers should we decide to go that way next time. Part of the problem in getting Fractured Soul signed to a publisher was that they'd not seen anything unique from us before, and we could not convince them that such an innovative concept could be as entertaining as we were claiming. More importantly, though, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to reach gamers either directly or through game sites a little more easily. This was a big factor in Fractured Soul's release - while we should have reached out to gamers and the press earlier in development, we also didn't really know how to do that. It seems like a lot more sites and gamers are curious about what we're working on now.
Quite the opposite, I think. Putting a retail-sized game out at a much lower than retail price might sound good on paper, but a lot of folks seem to still look at it as merely an eShop title with a high price tag rather than a retail product with a low price tag. A lot of people have been supportive of the idea of bigger content on the eShop for a slightly higher price, but there are still plenty of people who simply do not expect to pay more than $10 for eShop content, regardless of the size or quality of the experience.
I wonder... Do you think the response might've differed at all if the game was released for the DS and was done so earlier on in its development cycle?
Definitely. Firstly, I think if it was released too early, it would have suffered a little from a lack of direction. One thing that time gave us was a stronger idea of what we wanted the game to be. With such a new concept, it can be difficult to nail down all the aspects and make it a cohesive experience where the screen switching is not simply a gimmick but an important and constant part of the game. Secondly, some people seem to get caught up in the idea that a duality platform game is not a new concept, and had we released earlier perhaps those people might have been less eager to characterize the game as derivative of another game. The truth is, of course, that we started development of Fractured Soul before anyone knew anything about any of these other games, and in any case Fractured Soul still offers a very different take on the duality platforming experience.
I was looking at the development post on your team's blog, wherein you made an observation about hitting players with the strength of the concept right at the outset, rather than building up to a heightened effect to demonstrate that same strength. Of course, this isn't something that works for all games, so I'm interested to hear more about your thought process behind why you felt this was crucial for Fractured Soul.
In our original design, which was more story-driven, we had the player completing a mission on only one screen to begin with, in order to introduce all the basic platforming abilities. This was probably better for the game purely from a storyline point of view. However the focus of Fractured Soul is gameplay, not story, and we felt the need to demonstrate to the player immediately what was interesting about our game. Switching screens is central to the game from the very beginning to the very end, so we wanted to say to the player, "This is what is interesting about the game, and this is what you'll be doing throughout the game, and it is more important than any other ability you have so we are giving it to you right from the outset." Forcing the player to wait to see what was cool about the game just didn't feel right.
On balance, I feel that this was probably the correct decision. We've even heard some people being on the fence about the game until they pass the first world and start to see the concept open up, and I think this is fair as well. In many ways the first world is an extended tutorial or introduction, and the game really starts to get interesting from the 2nd world where we start to explore the screen switching concept in greater depth. So I think waiting longer to even introduce basic switching would have completely turned these people off, and that would have been a tragedy because they ended up really enjoying the game.
That is very true. Exploring the depth of a gameplay mechanic is extremely important in making it more than merely a marketing gimmick. For Fractured Soul, that exploration occurs through the different worlds we introduce - the switching is enhanced by each world having different properties on only one of the two screens - as well as via a different game mode in shooter/shmup sections. The screen switching needed to be a central feature of the game, and our internal mandate was to build it this way. One reviewer described the switching along the lines of "an interaction that becomes as important as jumping and shooting" and that really sums up how we thought of it when building the game. Anything less would have felt tacked on.
We deliberately avoided using the Touch Screen and the stereoscopic 3D simply because they didn't work for our game. Adding stereoscopic 3D, for example, would have detracted from the game, and despite it being a marketing dot point, it's not right for the game. To me, it's not interesting if a game adds stereoscopic 3D to a game design that could just as easily be represented without it. The mechanic you're adding needs to augment and inform the gameplay in a meaningful way. I can't see games that just bolt on these marketing dot-points without fleshing them out standing the test of time nor being able to offer anything beyond the original game. A very exciting aspect of Fractured Soul's duality is just how much more we can explore this mechanic in the future.
Would you say it's a much wiser approach now than it was a few years ago to do what you guys did -- that is, cut out the middleman and shoot for digital distribution? Obviously the financial state of a team would have a big say on the matter, but just in judging from what's worked for you and the challenges you've successfully overcome, what key variables do you feel have a bearing on whether or not the road would be an acceptable one to pursue?
Like you've said, money really is everything. By and large, publishers are still offering pretty raw deals to developers, and as long as this is going on, it's an easy equation - if you have the resources to go your own way, you will almost always be better off for it. That said, publishers do still have value to offer, and the ones that will thrive are the ones that can recognize where that value is. The relationship works when both parties understand what they're bringing to the table, and when developers aren't being starved of the basic resources they need to make a good game. There are certainly publishers who just don't realize the detrimental effect they can have on a game by continually keeping their foot on the throat of a small developer. Being forced to move team members onto things like talking to lawyers, juggling debts, and being forced to stagger payments to staff are all distractions from just making a great game. When we started out with this game, indie wasn't even a term in the context of gaming. Now it's all the rage, and from our experiences I can certainly see the appeal. Indie allows us to strip away all the nonsense between simply making a great game and delivering it into the hands of gamers.
That is the intention, however it is likely that we'll still fill in the gaps with fee for service work for other developers, at least in the short term. In an ideal world, we'd love to do more with Fractured Soul because there is plenty of scope left to explore this concept, and the feedback we've gotten from fans so far has really helped to crystallize our ideas of where we should take it. Of course, that all depends on how this one performs in the marketplace which will determine if we can afford a follow-up title.
In that same blog post (mentioned above) it was also expressed that you toyed with other game concepts before finalizing on the one that led to Fractured Soul. Think you might revisit these at a later date?
I doubt it. At the time those ideas were original but now they've been done in various ways. We have new concepts that we're toying with these days, but probably nothing worth talking about as it's still too early for any of them. I would also like to see how Fractured Soul performs on the eShop so that we can evaluate whether this is a good platform for us to stay with over the long-term.
On that note, what have you learned from working on this specific platform that you feel will prove beneficial when developing future efforts?
I guess that largely depends on whether it proves viable to stick with eShop in the future for a sequel or another game. I hope it does, and if so, then we have a great amount of knowledge about the process of getting the game approved and out to market - particularly the timing, but also the marketing asset creation. In some cases these are general lessons that will help regardless of which platform we work on in the future.
Any parting words to share with our readers?
Only to thank our fans for the support they've shown us. It is truly fantastic reading about how people are enjoying the game on our Facebook page, and seeing people competing for top times - swapping tips, tricks and strategies. We heard about one gamer who has already invested more than 40 hours into Fractured Soul, and that is so rewarding for us to hear that our game is offering this amount of longevity.
Much thanks to Grant for providing us with further insights on Fractured Soul, and the long journey it has had. Here's hoping we'll see more from Endgame Studios in the future!